Putting a Premium On Culture

Culture & Science
28 November 2011, 14:43

Wrocławis one of the cities promoting Polish culture abroad. In 2016, it will be a designated European Capital of Culture. What price has been paid to achieve this? The Ukrainian Week sought the answer in an interview with Jaroslaw Obremski who is in charge of educational and cultural branding for Wrocław. In the fall of 2011, he was also elected to the senate as a representative of Lower Silesia.

U.W.: The motto of your city is “Wrocław is a city of encounters.” How do you personally and the authorities of Lower Silesia understand these words?

It is a quotation from John Paul II’s address delivered during his visit to Wrocław in 1997. We interpret these words as a commitment to openness and hospitality. It means building an advertising strategy for our city so that it can attract new guests through congresses and cultural and sports events. Finally, it is a direct task to decipher the multicultural traditions of Wrocław.


U.W.: You often stress in your speeches that you would like to see “cultural” tourists in Wrocław. What do you mean by this concept?

Wrocławis a nice and interesting city but it is not in the top 10, unlike cities like Florence, Krakow or Saint Petersburg. Therefore, we have to expand the range of what we can offer. At the same time, this type of tourism – informed or cultural tourism (such as Japanese tourists who visit places linked to Chopin. – Ed.) – is the most profitable one.

U.W.: Will “cultural” tourists come to Euro 2012?

Some soccer fans may be interested in culture, but not during Euro 2012. Perhaps they will want to come back later.

U.W.: What is the essence of Wrocław’s development in the past decade? Not long ago it was just another city on the periphery, and even getting there from Warsaw was a problem.

Unfortunately, travel to Wrocław from Warsaw is still a challenge. Wrocław’s success lies in successful management, i.e., one that consistently realizes the main points of the strategy of new and better jobs, innovative economy, support for colleges and culture.

U.W.: How would you describe Wrocław's urban culture — the spirit of the city? What is it based on?

Even under communism, culture in Wrocław made use of many opportunities. Grotowski (Jerzy Grotowski, a Polish theater theorist and founder of the Theater Laboratory  in Wrocław. – Ed.), Tomaszewski’s pantomime (Henryk Tomaszewski was a director and founder of the Wrocław Theater of Pantomime. – Ed.) and street theater. Wrocław has constantly supported the avant-garde. Our authorities do not shy away from it even now. We were the first in Poland to allocate large funding of culture and promoting the city through cultural events. At the same time, we need to face historical truths and look at the non-Polish past of the city through its German heritage. If we want to take pride in the 10 Nobel Prize laureates that come from Wrocław, we also need to remember the shameful Kristallnacht in Breslau.


U.W.: Wrocław competed for the right to host EXPO 2012 but lost to Yeosu, Korea. Instead, it obtained the right to host Euro 2012 games and later won the title of a 2016 European Capital of Culture. What conclusions were drawn after the initial failure?

The need to be a good city and to understand, above all, the rules of the game. We have to realize what expectations the decision-makers have. Great challenges are somewhat like a lottery: the more often you play, the higher are chances of winning. They are also a bit like sports: debuts are rarely successful, and success largely comes with experience. I believe that by entering the international arena we were able to outpace our rivals inside Poland in the competition for Euro 2012. This applies also to the title of a 2016 European Capital of Culture as well.

U.W.: To what extent does participation in such programs and competitions foster the development of the city in general while enhancing its regional, national and trans-European significance?

To organize a year’s worth of events as a European Capital of Culture is merely a chance to succeed rather than success itself. I believe that, along with Krakow and Poznan, Wrocław is a city that can be among the first to play in the “city Euroleague.” Unfortunately, Polish cities, just like Ukrainian ones, lack the level of civilization and infrastructure that can be found in Western European cities. Our goal is to join them, in particular through the 2016 European capital of culture. We would have to enhance the interest of our citizens in high culture and thus enter European elites and establish ourselves there.

U.W.: Does the status of a European Capital of Culture help attract new foreign and domestic investment?

Investors are always looking for places where interesting things are happening. So it is better to have the status of a European Capital of Culture than not to have it.

U.W.: In order to meet your tasks as a European Capital of Culture, you need to invite many talented and contemporary culture managers…

For several years now we have reinforced our flagship institutions and festivals. Some of them, such as Wratislavia Cantans, Grotowski Institute and Brave Festiwal, reached a European level on their own by putting together a group of specialists that feel at home in European salons. Some festivals have been purchased from us, such as the New Horizons cinema fest and Literature Port. It should be noted that we are not afraid of foreign presence in administrative offices at our institutions.

U.W.: You were responsible, among other things, for the city’s education and culture sectors. There is a common stereotype in post-Soviet countries that this is the most boring and least lucrative work. Could you debunk this stereotypical perception using Wrocław as an example?

If the creativity of citizens is a value, while capital is secondary (Marx would turn in his grave), education and culture are a key to success. These were precisely the areas the president of the city put in my care. Could there be a more interesting job?

U.W.: What functions does the Wrocław Institution for Professional Activity have?

This is where they train people with limited intellectual abilities to live a normal life in society.

U.W.: In its recent announcement the Ukrainian railway company (Ukrzaliznytsia) said it would cancel, starting from 2012, the Lviv-Wrocław train, which is the fastest train in this direction. Is this some kind of pre-Euro 2012 joke?

I do not know anything about it, but I will try to find out before I come to Kyiv.


Jaroslaw Obremski

Born in 1962 in Wrocław, Obremski distributed underground periodicals during the Solidarity movement. He received a degree in chemistry from the University of Wrocław in 1988 where he was a cofounder of independent student self-government. In 1988-89, he worked at the Department of Inorganic Chemistry in the Wrocław College of Economics. At the same time, he organized the “U siebe” Young Catholics Movement. He was a member of Wrocław’s city council in 1990-2002 and worked in the city administration where he was initially responsible for external relations (1990-94) and later for education and culture (1994-2004). In 1998-2001, he was acting chair of Wrocław’s city council. In 2001, he was decorated with a Bronze Cross of Merit. In 2001-11, he was Vice President of Wrocław. Obremski was a member of the curator council in the Ossolineum Foundation and is now on the council of Wrocław’s Collegium of Eastern Europe. In 2001, he became a senator in the upper house of the Polish parliament and now belongs to the faction of independent senators.

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